Japanese horror (or “J-horror”) movies are a distinct subgenre of fright. The best Japanese horror movies evoke a particular kind of terror.
J-horror causes one to be anxious about what it means to exist and the loneliness intrinsic to the human condition, whether it is about angry ghosts or serial killers.
Japanese horror movies are most times laughable because it makes folly of life itself. Because of their tone, these films are notoriously difficult to view from a Western perspective. Since they are so obviously Japanese, the cultural context also takes away the tragedy.
If you’re new to it, this article is the ideal location to begin your journey into the strange and fantastic world of Japanese horror.
The best Japanese horror movies are listed below for your enjoyment.
1. Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989)
- Director: Shin’ya Tsukamoto
- Cast: Tomorô Taguchi, Kei Fujiwara, Nobu Kanaoka, Shin’ya Tsukamoto, Naomasa Musaka, and Renji Ishibashi
- IMDb Rating: 6.9/10
- Running Time: 1hr 7m
A severe sado-sexual “Metal Fetishist” who is in excruciating pain from a festering wound on his thigh flees into the street and gets struck by the automobile of a white-collar worker and his girlfriend.
The salaryman, however, strangely finds himself in front of a mysterious and excruciating majestic transformation instead of passing away.
This transformation twists and bends the malleable human flesh, inextricably tying it to the powerful and cold iron.
No going back is possible at this point, and nothing can stop the beautiful final metamorphosis. Is this the start of a brand-new era? This film is one of the best Japanese horror movies.
2. Kwaidan (1964)
- Director: Masaki Kobayashi
- Cast: Rentarô Mikuni, Michiyo Aratama, Misako Watanabe, Kenjirô Ishiyama, Ranko Akaji, and Fumie Kitahara
- IMDb Rating: 7.9/10
- Running Time: 3hr 3m
There are four unique, independent stories in this movie. “Black Hair”: A poor samurai marries for money after divorcing his true love, only to return to his first wife and uncover something sinister about her.
In the story “The Woman in the Snow,” a woodcutter becomes stranded in a snowstorm and encounters an icy ghost in the guise of a woman who spares his life on the condition that he keeps her a secret. Ten years later, he fails to keep his word.
Hoichi, a blind musician who resides in a monastery, sings so beautifully that a ghostly royal court requests him to sing the epic ballad of their final confrontation for them in “Hoichi the Earless.”
The monks set out to protect him by writing a holy phrase on his body to make him invisible to the ghosts because the ghosts rob him of his life. But something has been overlooked.
In the short story “In a Cup of Tea,” a guy spots an enigmatic face reflected in his cup of tea. Kwaidan is one of the best Japanese horror movies.
3. Godzilla (1954)
- Director: Ishirô Honda
- Cast: Takashi Shimura, Akihiko Hirata, Akira Takarada, Momoko Kôchi, Fuyuki Murakami, Sachio Sakai, and Toranosuke Ogawa
- IMDb Rating: 7.5/10
- Running Time: 1hr 36m
When seventeen ships blow up and sink on Odo Island, Professor Kyohei Yamane, his daughter Emiko Yamane, and the marine Hideto Ogata go there to investigate. They soon witness a massive beast the locals call a “Gojira,” destroying the region.
Meanwhile, Emiko runs across her boyfriend, the reclusive scientist Serizawa, who asks her to keep his work with oxygen a secret. He displays the lethal weapon he had constructed, the Oxygen Destroyer, and she nods in approval.
As Gojira reaches Tokyo and other Japanese cities and the army and navy cannot fend off the monster, Emiko shares Serizawa’s secret with her lover Ogata. They are currently attempting to use the Oxygen Destroyer to convince Serizawa to stop Gojira.
4. Audition (1999)
- Director: Takashi Miike
- Cast: Ryo Ishibashi, Eihi Shiina, Tetsu Sawaki, Jun Kunimura, Renji Ishibashi, Miyuki Matsuda, and Toshie Negishi
- IMDb Rating: 7.1/10
- Running Time: 1hr 55m
Shigeharu Aoyama, a widower in Tokyo, is raising his son Shigehiko Aoyama by himself while grieving the loss of his wife.
Seven years later, the adolescent Shigehiko questions his middle-aged father’s lack of remarriage, and Shigeharu visits his friend and film producer Yasuhisa Yoshikawa and reveals his plan.
Shigeharu finds it challenging to approach suitable ladies for a date, so Yasuhisa sets up a fake audition to find the leading lady for the made-up film.
They receive several candidate portfolios, and Shigeharu develops an obsession with the stunning Asami Yamazaki.
Shigeharu calls Asami for a date to advise the wise Yasuhisa, and he falls in love with her. But who exactly is the enigmatic Asami? This is an excellent addition to our list of best Japanese horror movies.
5. House (1977)
- Director: Nobuhiko Ôbayashi
- Cast: Kimiko Ikegami, Miki Jinbo, Kumiko Ôba, Ai Matsubara, Mieko Satô, Eriko Tanaka, and Masayo Miyako
- IMDb Rating: 7.3/10
- Running Time: 1hr 28m
Gorgeous, a bitter student who was very troubled to learn she had a stepmother, decides to spend her summer vacation with six classmates at the secluded rural home of her estranged auntie Karei.
The lively girls will soon come face to face with the unimaginable forces of the supernatural there. The perpetual demonic energy of the cursed place transforms the dusty home into a treacherous death trap.
Unbeknownst to them that the elderly, silver-haired woman is hiding a shocking secret. The dark powers are now calling for blood. Is there a way out of the eerie mansion on the hill?
Gorgeous shows them her aunt’s diary when Kung Fu and Prof discover her upstairs in the home while she is dressed in a wedding gown.
Following Gorgeous, as she exits the room, Kung Fu finds Sweet’s body inside a grandfather clock.
While Prof, Fantasy, and Kung Fu read the aunt’s diary, the remaining girls block the upper portion of the house out of panic.
They are interrupted by Gorgeous’s enormous head, who says that her aunt passed away many years ago while she was waiting for her fiancé to come from World War II.
The war made her spirit still present, and she continues to devour single females who come to her house. Then, home things start attacking the three girls. Prof commands Kung Fu to attack Blanche, the aunt’s cat.
6. Onibaba (1964)
- Director: Kaneto Shindô
- Cast: Nobuko Otowa, Jitsuko Yoshimura, Kei Satôp, Jûkichi Uno, Taiji Tonoyama, Someshô Matsumoto, and Hosui Araya
- IMDb Rating: 7.9/10
- Running Time: 1hr 43m
A middle-aged woman and her daughter-in-law survive in a hut on a field of reed during a civil war in Japan in the fourteenth century by killing soldiers and warriors to exchange goods for sustenance.
They find out that their son and spouse, Kichi perished while collecting supplies from farmers when their neighbor Hachi returns home after the army’s defect.
Hachi soon seduces the young widow, and she sneaks out of her hut each night to have sex with him. When the older woman learns of her daughter-in-affair and the law, she begs Hachi to take the young woman with her so that they can murder the warriors together.
Hachi, however, disregards her plea and goes on to meet the young woman. The older woman pulls the samurai into the pit, where she dumps the bodies of her victims.
However, he comes upon her at her hut wearing a monster mask and asks her to lead him out of the field.
Kichi descends into the hole to retrieve his belongings and mask when she discovers he is a deformed man. She then haunts her daughter-in-law with the monster mask to keep her away from Hachi.
Kichi finds a surprise when she chooses to take the cover off, though. This is another excellent addition to our list of best Japanese horror movies.
7. One Cut of the Dead (2017)
- Director: Shin’ichirô Ueda
- Cast: Yuzuki Akiyama, Takayuki Hamatsu, Kazuaki Nagaya, Haruni Shuhama, Manabu Hodoi, Hiroshi Ichihara, and Mao
- IMDb Rating: 7.6/10
- Running Time: 1he 36m
The cast and crew of the low-budget zombie movie True Fear are filming at an abandoned water filtration facility in the first part of the movie.
Due to rising debts and his frustration with the actors’ performances, director Higurashi arranges for a blood pentagram to be painted on the wall. The paintings will help to summon genuine zombies in keeping with the plant’s mysterious past.
Assistant director Kasahara also becomes a zombie after being bit by cameraman Hosoda, who has turned into one. Actor Ko, actress Chinatsu, and makeup artist Nao bar the undead from the plant. Higurashi urges they keep shooting with actual zombies.
As they get ready to hit the one-shot take, the genuine cast and crew of the One Cut of the Dead production reveal in the second part of the movie.
The fact that One Cut of the Dead is a live performance means there will be no need for retakes or delays. The film’s third segment shows the hectic production of One Cut of the Dead behind the scenes.
Director Takayuki Higurashi and his wife Harumi Higurashi had to step in to cover the director and makeup artist positions because two key actors couldn’t make it to filming. This movie’s uniqueness is why it made our list of best Japanese horror movies.
8. Pulse (2001)
- Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa
- Cast: Haruhiko Katô, Kumiko Asô, Koyuki, Kurume Arisaka, Masatoshi Matsuo, Shinji Takeda, and Jun Fubuki
- IMDb Rating: 6.9/10
- Running Time:1hr 59m
A group of young Tokyo citizens starts experiencing unusual events after one of their pals commits suicide.
While another’s computer constantly displays bizarre, ghostly images, one of them gets visions of his deceased friend in the shadows on the wall.
Is their dead friend attempting to get in touch with them, or is there a more sinister situation at hand?
Pulse is a long, claustrophobic ascent into the shocking demise of existence itself. The internet appears to be the one common thread connecting the increasing number of disappearances in Tokyo and elsewhere.
The premise of Pulse is strong and developed to the point where it transcends the scope of any individual. A small band of survivors can only make an effort to survive in the face of constantly changing, unchangeable circumstances.
The atmosphere of fear permeates the entire movie from beginning to end. This is another excellent option in our list of best Japanese horror movies.
9. Suicide Club (2001)
- Director: Sion Sono
- Cast: Ryo Ishibashi, Mai Hosho, Tamao Satô, Takashi Nomura, Masatoshi Nagase, Rolly, and Masato Tsujioka
- IMDb Rating: 6.5/10
- Running Time: 1hr 39m
The movie begins with schoolgirls in Tokyo jumping together and holding hands in front of a train. Detective Kuroda works to determine the cause of the suicides as bodies continue to pile up on the streets of Japan.
A complicated web of hints, including cryptic websites and unique tattoos, points to the solution. Although the movie deals with serious issues, Sono doesn’t hesitate to make the unspoken darkly humorous.
You’ll be captivated from start to finish by this contentious movie’s cinematic experience, which uses a scattering of violent and absurd imagery.
When 54 high school students in Tokyo plunge to their deaths from a platform in Shinjuku Station, Detective Kuroda’s police team is at a loss for what to do next.
Then a young woman named The Bat sends an email informing him about a website with red dots indicating the number of fatalities.
Kuroda and his colleagues look into the deaths that seem to be heading nowhere. This film is one of the best Japanese horror movies.
10. Ju-On: The Grudge (2002)
- Director: Takashi Shimizu
- Cast: Megumi Okina, Misaki Itô, Misa Uehara, Yui Ichikawa, Kanji Tsuda, Kayoko Shibata, and Yukako Kukuri
- IMDb Rating: 6.7/10
- Running Time: 1hr 32m
Before the main plot, Takeo Saeki kills his wife Kayako, the family cat Mar, and his son Toshio after learning she is in love with someone else.
The killings result in a curse that brings the family back to life as vengeful ghosts, with Kayako’s ghost killing Takeo.
The curse extends to where they die and then consumes everybody who enters their home in Nerima, Tokyo, eventually destroying everyone.
Nakagawa and Igarashi get in touch with retired detective Toyama after learning more about the history of the house and the Saeki murders. Toyama is hesitant to take the case back up.
Toyama hears some teenage females above and decides against burning the home down. While the ghost kills others, one runs away.
Toyama is chased away by Kayako, who also kills Nakagawa and Igarashi. In the end, Toyama passes away, and his daughter Izumi survives.
Toyama had previously seen Izumi go to the house with her friends as a teenager, but she left as Kayako slaughtered her friends. Izumi feels remorse over leaving her friends and grows more unstable and paranoid.
Izumi sees a glimpse of her deceased father before realizing that her friends’ ghosts are keeping an eye on her. Her dead pals surround her until Kayako appears and drags her into hell.
Rika has moved on with her life since she last visited the mansion. Toshio, listed as her student but never attended class, is visited by her friend Mariko, an elementary school teacher.
When Rika tries to save her, it’s too late. Rika sees Kayako temporarily assume her appearance as Kayako’s spirit pursues her. She understands that she will experience the curse’s effects and share Kayako’s fate.
11. Marebito (2004)
- Director: Takashi Shimizu
- Cast: Shin’ya Tsukamoto, Tomomi Miyashita, Kazuhiro Nakahara, Miho Ninagawa, , Shun Sugata, Junko Amagi, and Masaru Endô
- IMDb Rating: 6/10
- Running Time: 1hr 32m
Takayoshi Masuoka, a freelance cameraman in Tokyo, is preoccupied with researching the terror of being close to death.
Takayoshi searches for what the suicide man may have seen to experience the same sense of dread the man felt before he died. However, he photos a man stabbing himself in the eye at the entrance to the underground.
He discovers a passageway leading to the Tokyo subway system. He encounters a mysterious naked woman he addresses as F. Takayoshi brings F to his house, where he tries to feed her before realizing that she drinks blood.
Masuoka becomes a serial killer who provides F by drawing blood from his victims. Masuoka spots a woman he previously filmed in her apartment while filming for a news crew at the location of the second murder.
He removes F from the apartment and leaves her in the karaoke room while he goes on a trip by himself. Masuoka speaks with Kuroki while seated on a dock about his fascination with dread.
Masuoka loses his home and spends the night in the park, where he murders the young girl. He did spots a pair of Deros and discovers a cell phone that directs him back to his apartment.
After he finds F, he briefly acknowledges that he killed his wife and a stranger and abused his daughter like an animal.
When Masuoka enters the apartment, F is on the floor, and his wife’s ghost emerges behind him in the elevator.
When F starts speaking to him, he closes his mouth at the corner to feed her. F guides Masuoka back into the underworld at the movie’s conclusion and captures him as it seems he has finally encountered the same terror that had first fascinated him.
12. The Forest of Love (2019)
- Director: Sion Sono
- Cast: Shinnosuke Mitsushima, Kyoko Hinami, Kippei Shîna, Young Dais, Eri Kamataki, Yukuka Nakaya, and Natsuki Kawamura
- IMDb Rating: 6.3/10
- Running Time: 2hr 31
Joe Murata watches television reports on a serial killer’s crimes while seated at a café. A yearbook from a girls’ school with several images carried off carried by Murata. He identifies as a scriptwriter and asks the waiter if he has any experience killing people.
Another young man, Shin, is met by two young men, Jay and Fukami, who then take him to the abandoned warehouse where they are residing. According to Jay, he wants to make movies that investigate all forms of lawful criminal behavior.
Jay takes Shin to meet a promiscuous female after Shin admits that he is a virgin. Taeko, the girl, rejects Shin but refers him to Mitsuko, a friend from high school who is a shut-in with wealthy but strict parents.
Mitsuko wants to die after being taken to a forest by Murata, Shin, and Ami. She confesses that she hadn’t taken the sleeping pill, had sex with her friends’ boyfriends besides Ami’s, and had hoped Taeko would pass away.
Ami knew Shin was a murderer and Murata was a con artist, but she still wanted them to murder Ami, her parents, and Taeko.
After shooting Mitsuko and Ami, Shin hands Murata the gun and commands him to kill Ami, who pleads with him for her life. Shin scolds Murata before killing Ami by himself. This is one of the best Japanese horror movies.
13. One Missed Call (2003)
- Director: Takashi Miike
- Cast: Shin’ichi Tsutsumi, Ko Shibasaki, Kazue Fukiishi, Anna Nagata, Atsushi Ida, Kumiko Imai, and Mariko Tsutsui
- IMDb Rating: 6.2/10
- Running Time: 1hr 52m
Teenager Yoko Okazaki was with her friends in the pub when she received a voicemail telling her the exact time she would die.
Yumi overhears a group of students discussing the rumor that people are unexpectedly getting phone calls with the next day’s date and hour of their impending deaths.
Yoko is struck by a supernatural force at the precise appointed hour while conversing with her friend Yumi Nakamura at a train station. Yumi locates Kenji Kawai, Kioto’s boyfriend, who also got a call and found him dead in an elevator shaft.
Yoko makes friends with Hiroshi Yamashita after Natsumi Konishi, her roommate, receives a call and he informs her that Ritsuko is the first victim of the ring.
Yumi, who is in the hospital, hears an asthma pump and remembers hearing it when Kenji passed away.
They decide to look into hospital asthma patients and discover Marie Mizunuma and her daughters Mimiko and Nanako. Together, they seek the family to prevent Natsumi from meeting her end.
14. Cure (1997)
Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Cast: Masato Hagiwara, Koji Yakusho, Tsuyoshi Ujiki, Anna Nakagawa, Misayo Haruki, Yoriko Dôguchi, and Ren Ôsugi
IMDb Rating: 7.4/10
Running Time: 1hr 51m
Detective Kenichi Takabe of the police is looking into strange killings in which the victims are brutally slain and have an X etched into their necks.
Each murderer is quickly apprehended and confesses to the crime but cannot give a reason for the person’s death.
All the murderers made contact with a stranger just before the killings, which has Takabe and psychologist Makoto Sakuma fascinated.
Since his mentally deranged wife Fumie is a burden in his life, Takabe is a tormented guy. Takabe reveals the stranger’s identity after a doctor kills a guy in a public lavatory.
He is Kunio Mamiya, an intern at the hospital who spoke with the doctor. Mamiya’s actions impacted Takabe, a confused guy who appears to have lost his memory.
A deeper look reveals that he has studied hypnotism and is skilled at instilling the desire to kill in the minds of his victims.
As the case begins to dominate Takabe’s life, it becomes clear that he is becoming insane. This movie is one of the best Japanese horror movies.
15. Ringu (1998)
- Director: Hideo Nakata
- Cast: Miki Natakani, Nanako Matsushima, Yûko Takeuchi, Hitomi Satô, Yôichi Numata, Yutaka Matsushige, and Katsumi Muramatsu
- IMDb Rating: 7.2/10
- Running Time: 1hr 32m
There were interviews with Teenagers for “Cursed Video” about it. Reiko looks into the death of her niece Tomoko, who had an uncharacteristically terrified expression on her face and died of “sudden heart failure.”
Ahe learns that some of Tomoko’s friends, who had gone on vacation with Tomoko the week before, had passed away on the very same night, at the same time, and in precisely the same manner.
When Reiko visits the cabin where the teens had slept, she discovers a video clip that is ‘unlabeled. As Reiko watched the tape, she was horrified to learn that it was the “curse videotape.”
Reiko’s ex-husband Ryuji assists her in solving the riddle, and she makes him a copy for future research. When their son Yoichi claims Tomoko had instructed him to watch the tape, the situation becomes more serious.
When they make their find on a volcanic island, they learn that the video is related to a psychic who passed away 30 years ago and her child Sadako.